Impeached but not convicted, Ken Paxton is returning to helm the Texas Attorney General’s office.
After a nearly-two week trial and hours of private deliberation, the Texas Senate voted to acquit Paxton on all 16 of the articles of impeachment that were brought to trial by the House. No single vote came close to reaching the two-thirds majority required to convict, and only two Republicans—Senators Kelly Hancock and Robert Nichols—joining Democrats on most articles.
Having spent his political career dodging legal and ethical challenges, Paxton’s acquittal of impeachment charges involving serious and sweeping corruption allegations marks a whole new level of victory for the attorney general.
His impeachment stemmed from several of his top deputies reporting him to the FBI after coming to believe that Paxton may have committed crimes and abused his office by providing extraordinary access and favors to his friend and campaign donor Nate Paul, a real estate investor in Austin. All of those deputies then either resigned or were fired.
Some of those deputies filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the AG’s office, which was fought for over two years, and finally reached a settlement in the beginning of this year. Then, a Texas House committee began secretly investigating the nature of that settlement and the whistleblowers’ complaint, culminating in a sudden-onset impeachment vote against Paxton at the every end of the 2023 legislative session.
Paxton’s impeachment trial in the Senate was full of drama and tension, with the public hearing directly from many of the people—including the whistleblowers—involved in these allegations for the first time. One of the strangest moments came on Thursday, when Paxton’s adulterous girlfriend Laura Olson showed up at the capitol to testify, only to leave before taking the stand—explained only in an announcement by Lieutenant Governor that she was deemed “unavailable” to testify.
In the defense’s closing arguments, Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee condemned, vilified, mocked and threatened the House, the prosecution team, the “so-called whistleblowers,” the media, and the political establishment for trying to take down Paxton on a bunch of unverified “maybes” and “could-be’s.” This echoed the defense’s consistent theme throughout the trial that this was all part of a dark conspiracy by establishment Republicans to take down Paxton after failing to defeat him at the ballot box.
The House prosecution’s lead lawyer Rusty Hardin had initially claimed ahead of the trial that Paxton’s misdeeds and possible crimes were “10 times” worse than the public even knew but, throughout the trial, the prosecution failed or missed chances to make its case.
And in the end, the vast majority of Republican senators did not feel compelled to convict Paxton. Beginning late Saturday morning, the Senate began voting one by one on each article of impeachment. From the first one on, it became increasingly clear that Paxton was going to walk.
After the final votes were taken, Dan Patrick–who presided over the trial as judge—didn’t waste a second letting his true feelings be known after being largely silent over the preceding three months.
He unleashed a tirade against the House and its Speaker Dade Phelan for the rushed and half-cocked process for impeaching Paxton in the first place. Patrick promised that he would push to pass constitutional amendments in the next session that would reform the state’s impeachment laws. Prior to the trial, Patrick’s campaign received $3 million from the pro-Paxton PAC Defend Texas Liberty.
“The speaker and his team rammed through the first impeachment of a statewide official in Texas in over 100 years while paying no attention to the precedent that the House set in every other impeachment before,” Patrick said.
Phelan shot back soon after in a statement blasting Patrick for purporting to be an objective arbiter of the trial only to confess his bias right after its conclusion: “The inescapable conclusion is that today’s outcome appears to have been orchestrated from the start, cheating the people of Texas of justice.”
In a statement released soon after his acquittal, Paxton said, “Today, the truth prevailed! The truth could not be buried by mudslinging politicians or their powerful benefactors.”
While Paxton is back in power, his troubles aren’t over. Next month, he’ll finally go to trial on the state securities fraud charges for which he was indicted nearly a decade ago. Then, there’s the federal investigation into him for the very same allegations that brought his impeachment.
With the help of an outside pressure campaign led by billionaire allies, Paxton survived this political trial. Can he do the same in an actual court?